The Meaning of It All

This small book, The Meaning of It All by Don Cupitt, (SCM Press) is the second in an original and provocative trilogy. The first, The New Religion of Life in Everyday Speech looked at how the word “life” is rapidly becoming the ordinary person’s word “God”. The trilogy concludes with what may be Cupitt’s last book, Kingdom Come in Everyday Speech, also from SCM Press. All three volumes show how our religious thinking has shifted from a supposed world “out there” to that of the “here- and-now”. That’s life!

In this second book Cupitt looks at 450 “it” idioms and shows how they are pregnant with meaning, including religious meaning.

He argues, and rightly I believe, that philosophy and theology now play a squeaky second fiddle to science and technology and that all forms of religious belief now appear to be an an intellectual mess. In everyday speech, God-talk has become very impoverished, whereas Life-talk is rich and growing. It is in the realm of ordinary langiuage, often denigrated by academics, that we get a vision of who and what we are and where we might be going. That is to say, the human condition.

Ordinary language is our way of networking with each other, expressing our feelings, holding the human world together. We talk about “gossiping the gospel”, sharing the good news in gossipy rather than high falutin’ ways. Ordinary language is concerned with gut-feelings (Shortland Street, The Soaps), it is focussed mainly on this purely human world, and is anything but elitist. Many words which formerly had religious overtones are now being assimilated into secular, everyday speech, e.g. ”icon” (Colin Meads), “charisma” (pop star), “ecstacy” (sex, drugs), and also “revelation”, “miracle” and “grace”. All do their duty in this world, their original theological use forgotten.

The neutered “it” is much older than the word “life”, but it too has religious overtones. People say: it has got me beat (mystery); it was awesome (transcendence); that this is it (eschatological); that she’s got it (charisma); don't let it get you down (comfort); it has all been worthwhile (redeeming it); learn from it (suffering); take it as it comes (acceptance).

Cupit conceded that the “it” word can also refer to an alien extra-human realm which perhaps will continue to trouble us—like necessity, fate, destiny, chance—but maybe this is all a bad dream left over from our past. In his view that sort of it is on the way out.

Cupitt, the radical humanist, expresses the hope that Christianity may one day become the radical humanist religion.

“The word, the flesh, and the human world: that is all there is, and that is enough for us. This is a minority view ... But one day it (ordinary language) will go with me all the way, I hope.”
However one responds to Cupitt, his plea that we examine ordinary language to find out what people do believe, rather than telling them what to believe, is worth a hearing. The customer is nearly always right. And that’s it!

Alan Goss,Good Friday 2000

The full series is:

  1. The New Religion of Life in Everyday Speech
  2. The Meaning of It All
  3. Kingdom Come in Everyday Speech